EDITORIAL by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Putin to blame for shooting down MH17
, August 2, 2014
The use of a surface-to-air missile to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet in eastern Ukraine is an international crime, which will test the willingness of the United Nations, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the European Union to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Telecommunications intercepts by the Ukrainian government, together with missile-tracking technology from the United States, demonstrate that the missile which downed the aircraft flying from Holland to Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, was launched in rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine.
The intercepts included transcripts of phone calls between Russian-backed rebel commanders and their forces on the ground, which suggested that the commanders thought they had shot down a cargo plane.
Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported that a web page associated with separatist military commander Igor Girkin, who goes by the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov, announced that rebels had shot down a Ukrainian cargo craft, and that it would serve as a warning, “Don’t fly in ‘our skies’.” This web page was later removed (WSJ, July 18, 2014).
An internet search of Girkin reveals that for 18 years, until March 2014, he was an officer in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor of the domestic arm of the Soviet spying agency, the KGB. During the period he was an FSB officer, he was allegedly involved in the Bosnian war in the aftermath of the break-up of Yugoslavia and, nearer to home, in the bloody war against separatists in Chechnya.
Early this year, he was reportedly involved in the Russian military takeover of Crimea.
Paul Dibb, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, and former head of the Office of National Assessments, told the ABC that the destruction of the Malaysian airliner, with the loss of almost 300 lives, was certainly the result of a sophisticated Russian missile strike.
Later reports from Ukraine that a Russian missile-launcher, after the attack, had been photographed being moved back into Russia confirmed its presence.
Professor Dibb wrote in The Australian, “There is impeccable evidence the missile that brought down the Malaysian flight was an SA-11 (Russian designation Buk) ground-to-air missile with a speed of Mach Three, or three times the speed of sound.
“It has an operational ceiling in excess of 76,000 feet, or more than double the height of the ill-fated Malaysian airliner. And it was undoubtedly fired from a position well within rebel-held territory in south-eastern Ukraine.”
He added, “All these facts are well known to Australian intelligence, including from our access to U.S. satellite information.”
Another ANU expert, John Blaxland, said that the missile was not a simple heat-seeking weapon, and the Boeing 777 was shot down deliberately by a surface-to-air missile guided to its target by a sophisticated radar guidance system.
“This is a major piece of conventional weaponry designed for serious war fighting, not for militias,” Dr Blaxland said.
The Russian embassy in Canberra issued a statement, which blamed Ukrainian military forces for shooting down the Malaysian airliner, and said that Ukraine must “bear the full responsibility for so many innocent lives lost”.
But it contained a number of highly revealing statements. It said, “We also urge the media to refrain from provocative assessments of the events as some agencies hurried to speculate about the involvement of the self-defence forces of the People’s Republic of Donetsk [sic] in this tragedy.”
(The People’s Republic of Donetsk is the name given to the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, following the annexation of Crimea by Russia).
The embassy statement added, “There is no way that the self-defence forces in the Donetsk region are in possession of such complex weaponry that could hit the air-plane flying at an altitude of over 10,000 metres.
“According to military experts, only S-300 and Buk surface-to-air missile systems are capable of hitting targets at such altitude. Moreover, it takes a lot of training and coordination to fire one of them and hit a target. It was done by a professional military force.”
The conclusion is obvious: the missile was launched by Russian military personnel who freely cross the border between Russia and the area which is controlled by pro-Russian militias. It is inconceivable that they acted without orders.
A number of other aircraft have been shot down by missiles over recent weeks in the area controlled by separatists, but these may have been targeted by smaller portable missiles, with a limited range. These were supplied to the rebels by Russia to prevent Ukraine using its air superiority to attack rebel positions.
While Russia bears responsibility for the tragedy, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and Ukraine’s air traffic control showed a reckless disregard for the lives of civilians by permitting aircraft to fly over this war zone.
Some airlines, including Qantas, had taken the decision months ago not to fly over the area.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.